Groton-Dunstable vs Shepherd Hill boys soccer. Groton-Dunstable’s Simon Chandler (2) and Paul Waltz (17), left, and Shepherd Hill’s Josh Faubert (2). (SUN/Julia Malakie)
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GROTON — The Groton-Dunstable boys’ soccer team has gone back to the future.

The Crusaders’ program has a pedigree of winning that few schools in the area can match. On head coach Sean Wisbey’s watch, Groton-Dunstable won back-to-back Division 2 state titles in 2011 and 2012. In 2015, the Crusaders advanced to the Division 1 state final.

But wins haven’t been as easy to come by in recent years. The Crusaders only won one game in 2017, but rebounded to qualify for the state tournament last fall.

  • Groton-Dunstable vs Shepherd Hill boys soccer. Groton-Dunstable’s Simon Chandler (2) and Shepherd Hill’s Jack Levesque (4), left, and Matvey Zhuk (11). (SUN/Julia Malakie)

  • Groton-Dunstable vs Shepherd Hill boys soccer. Groton-Dunstable’s Matt Forhman (7). (SUN/Julia Malakie)

  • Groton-Dunstable vs Shepherd Hill boys soccer. Shepherd Hill’s Gabe Roach (8) and Groton-Dunstable’s Matt Forhman (7). (SUN/Julia Malakie)

  • Groton-Dunstable vs Shepherd Hill boys soccer. Shepherd Hill’s Gabe Roach (8), rear, and Groton-Dunstable’s Matt Forhman (7). (SUN/Julia Malakie)

  • Groton-Dunstable vs Shepherd Hill boys soccer. Shepherd Hill’s Josh Faubert (2), left, and Groton-Dunstable’s Elias Jiser (13). (SUN/Julia Malakie)

  • Groton-Dunstable vs Shepherd Hill boys soccer. Groton-Dunstable’s Simon Chandler (2) and Paul Waltz (17), left, and Shepherd Hill’s Josh Faubert (2). (SUN/Julia Malakie)

  • Groton-Dunstable vs Shepherd Hill boys soccer. Shepherd Hill’s Nick Diamond (19) and Groton-Dunstable’s Ian Maguire (12). (SUN/Julia Malakie)

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This season, Groton-Dunstable is once again playing like a team that will make its presence felt in November.

The Crusaders can score goals in bunches, swarm to the ball on defense and are solid in goal. Groton-Dunstable took flight early in the season and with each win continues to gain altitude.

Matt Fordham scored a goal and had two assists to pace the offense and keeper Cole Connerty made eight saves as Groton-Dunstable blanked Shepherd Hill, 3-0, in a Midland-Wachusett League cross-over game Tuesday afternoon to stretch its winning streak to eight games and secure a postseason berth.

“In 2017 we were very young and went 1-16-1,” said Wisbey. “We played a very difficult schedule. It was a humbling experience. I learned a lot that year about how to react as a coach when you are put in that situation. It very much humbled me moving forward with what I do now.

“Winning came easy at times before that. Last year we came down to the last three games of the season and needed two wins and a tie in order to qualify for districts. We actually won the last three games and I started playing the younger guys in the program. They came on. You could see at the end of last season that we got a start on this season. We finished strong and I thought we could be a really good team this year with what we have (coming back).”

Wisbey’s intuition was right on.

Groton-Dunstable opened the season with back-to-back ties against Algonquin and Westford Academy. Then got on a major roll. The Crusaders have outscored their opponents by a 24-7 margin during their eight-game winning streak. Groton-Dunstable is also sitting at the top of the Midland-Wachusett League B Division standings with a 4-0 record.

“It’s pretty unbelievable to be on a run like this,” said Ian Maguire, a senior defender. “Coming into the season we didn’t think this was going to happen. But we did have high hopes. We’re still not playing our best soccer, which is scary for other teams. We keep building confidence every single day. The season is only half over, and we still have to keep working.”

Many of the seniors on this year’s Crusader club played on the 2017 squad that only experienced the thrill of a victory once all season.

“That season has served as a great source of motivation to go out there and play hard,” said Maguire. “You never want to have another season like that. We got embarrassed multiple times that year. None of us want to experience that again. It made us put that much more work into improving our skills in the hope of coming out and beating those teams that beat us so badly when we were struggling. We want to give them some payback.”

Groton-Duntable got off to a fast start against Shepherd Hill and didn’t slow down until the game was over. Fordham scored a minute into the game, slipping through Shepherd Hill’s defense and putting a shot into the net that caromed in off the goal post. Maguire assisted on Fordham’s goal.

The Crusaders doubled their lead at the nine-minute mark, as Fordham put a perfectly placed corner kick in front of the Shepherd Hill goal that Zach Elmasri headed into the net.

With 18:30 left to play in the game, Fordham lofted a direct kick toward the Shepherd Hill goal that Paul Waltz put into the net to complete the scoring and seal the win.

“We’re playing great,” said Fordham. “The boys worked hard over the offseason to come together as a team. We wanted to do something special this year. We knew we had a strong team returning and working hard would put us in a good position to do well.”

Fordham, a junior, now has eight goals and eight assists for 16 points. He scored eight goals last season.

“I’m definitely having a better season this year,” said Fordham. “My shots are going in. It has to do with working with the boys in the offseason and developing a chemistry. Our front four is just unbelievable. We have a lot of talent. We have some special kids.”

Once Groton-Dunstable grabbed the early lead, the defense made sure it stood. Maguire, Derek Caruso, Chase Herberich, Alex Castellano,Waltz and Elmasri played well in front of Connerty, who made a great save on a point-blank shot in the first half that prevented Shepherd Hill from cutting the Crusaders’ lead in half. Simon Chandler played a strong two-way game for Groton-Dunstable.

The Crusaders will only get stronger when David Alvarez, who potted a team-leading 11 goals last season, and Peter Ho recover from their injuries and return to the lineup.

“I’m happy to be here, but by no means are we satisfied just being where we are,” said Wisbey. “We still have some tough games. We have to go to Westboro on Thursday night for a really big game. We’re playing well, but there’s lots of work to do.”

Follow Carmine Frongillo on Twitter @cwfrongi.